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William Cooper Nell was born on this date. He was a black lecturer, journalist, and historian.

From Boston, he was the son of William and Louise Cooper. A frequent reader of William Lloyd Garrison’s, “Liberator,” Nell joined the cause of the antislavery movement. He began working for the Liberator newspaper in the 1840’s. At many of the antislavery functions in Boston, he was Garrison’s personal representative. He became active in the Underground Railroad, until ill health forced him to withdraw.

In 1851 he became an assistant to Frederick Douglass and soon after published his own pamphlet on “Colored American Patriots” in the Revolution and the War of 1812. This evolved into the book for which he is best known. Nell drew his stories from personal accounts, cemetery records, and research. His book includes an introduction by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Nell has been credited with saving the stories of many Black soldiers from obscurity.

His description of the first martyr to the Revolution, Chrispus Attucks, brought a key Black figure into American history but his efforts to have a monument erected to Attucks was unsuccessful in 1851. In protest to the Dred Scott decision, Nell organized the very first Crispus Attucks celebration in America. After the war ended, Nell became a party in identifying the efforts of the Black soldiers in the Civil War. Nell is considered by Carter Goodwin Woodson to be the first African-American historian.

Nell is also is acknowledged to be the first federal employee of the United States, having been employed in the Boston Post Office in 1863. He died May 25, 1874.

George Ruffin is born in Richmond, Virginia. He will be the first African American to obtain a law degree from Harvard University and will be a lifelong champion for African American suffrage and equality.


The Zulu chieftain Dingaan is defeated by the Boers in South Africa.

Shields Green and John Anthony Copeland, two of five African American freedom fighters, are hanged for their participation in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Copeland will be led to the gallows shouting “I am dying for freedom. I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave.”

It was on this day that the last slave ship dropped anchor in U.S. waters. Although the importation of Africans as slaves had been banned approximately 50 years earlier, Africans were illegally imported right up until the time of the Civil War. The last slave ship was known as the Clothilde and it landed at Mobile Bay, AL.

The Colored Methodist Church of America is established at Jackson, Tennessee. The organization will change its name in 1954 to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The denomination will grow to include approximately 3,000 congregations.

Charles Caldwell, a militant African American militia officer, joins the ancestors, after being assassinated in Clinton, Mississippi.

Alabama A&M College, Knoxville College, and Lane College are established.

Governor Daniel H. Chamberlain, acting in concert with white Democrats and conservatives, refuses to resign his commission.


William J. Whippers is elected judge of the circuit court of Charleston by the South Carolina General Assembly.

Negro Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Jackson, TN.

On this date, Andy Razaf was born. He was an African-American composer, musical lyricist, poet, and a major influence in black theater during the 1920’s.

Andrianmanantena Paul Razafinkarefo (also Razafkeriefo), in Washington, DC, he was the son of Henri Razafkeriefo, the nephew of Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar and Jennie (Waller) Razafkeriefo, the daughter of John Louis Walker. John L. Walker, a former slave, became the first African American counsel to that country. The French invasion of 1895 left his father dead and forced his 15 year old mother to escape with the young Andy to the United States. Raised in Harlem, at the age of 16, Andy quit school and took a job as an elevator operator at a Tin Pan Alley office building, then as a butler, and, then as a custodian to in order to help bring money into the home. A year later at the age of 17, he penned his first song text, Baltimo, which was sung by members of “The Passing Show of 1913” at Winter Garden, NY, embarking on his career as a lyricist. Some of Razaf’s early poems were published 1917 – 1918 in the Hubert Harrison-edited “Voice,” the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement.”

He moved to Cleveland to become a semi-professional baseball pitcher for a Negro team. In 1921, he returned to New York, briefly playing for the New York Black Sox, but soon was able to make a living as a songwriter.

A year later came his first important lyrical contribution with Joe Hurtig’s Social Maids Show. During the 1920’s Razaf was a true fixture of Harlem’s nightclub scene, collaborating with many notable composers and players, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Eubie Blake (with whom he wrote Memories of You), James P. Johnson and others. It was at this time that Razaf met and became friends with Fats Waller (no relation).

Razaf collaborated not only with Smith, Blake, James P. Johnson, and Waller, but also with composers, Paul Denniker, Don Redman, J.C. Johnson, and Harry Brooks. He also added lyrics to instrumental hits such as Stompin’ at the Savoy, Christopher Columbus, and In the Mood. Together, with his friend Fat Waller, they wrote some of the most renowned popular songs of the twentieth century. Among the best known Razaf-Waller collaborations are The Joint is Jumpin’ (1938), Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose, Willow Tree, Blue Turning Grey over You (1929), Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now (1932), My Fate Is in Your Hands (1928), and (What Did I Do to be So) Black and Blue. One of the duo’s most famous songs, What Did I Do to be So Black and Blue (1929), displayed Razaf’s longstanding concern with racial injustice. Although Louis Armstrong’s influential version interpreted the song in terms of white racism towards African-Americans, Razaf’s original lyrics were also directed at interracial bias against darker-skinned blacks.

His music was played by other Tin Pan Alley muscians, as well as Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, and many others. He was a contributor and editor of the UNIA’s Negro World newspaper. Many of Razaf’s lyrics provide an African American perspective on America. Through their sharp observation of social and racial issues, Razaf’s lyrics give an inside look at life in New York City in the first half of the 20th century. In 1972, at seventy-six years of age, Andy Razaf, the most prolific black lyricist of 20th century popular music, was finally recognized by his Tin Pan Alley peers in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The greatest vocalist and players of jazz and popular music of the roaring twenties and 1930’s performed Razaf’s music. AfterTan Manhattan (1940), Razaf moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where he failed at an attempt to enter politics. He moved to Los Angeles, living the remainder of his live in relative obscurity. Andy Razaf died of kidney disease on February 3, 1973.

John Edward Jacobs is born in Trout, Louisiana and will be raised in Houston, Texas. Jacobs will serve the National Urban League in many capacities and in 1982 will replace Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. as its president.

Augusta Savage, sculptress, is commissioned to sculpt a piece for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The sculpture is to symbolize the African American contribution to the field of music. It is the first such commission given to an African American.

The first coining honoring an African American and designed by Isaac Hathaway, an outstanding African American ceramists and sculptor, is issued by the U.S. Bureau of the Mint. The fifty-cent piece contains the bust of Booker T. Washington.

William “The Refrigerator” Perry is born. He will become an NFL defensive lineman with the Chicago Bears. He will be best known for his occasional performance as a running back on short yardage situations.

Wilt Chamberlain of the NBA Philadelphia 76ers scores 68 points against the Chicago Bulls.

Jim Brown’s single season rushing record in the NFL is smashed by O.J. Simpson. Brown rushed for 1,863 yards, while Simpson ran for 2,003 yards.

Andrew Young was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on this day. Young, serving his third term in Congress from Georgia, resigned his seat to take the post. He became the first Black appointee in the Carter Administration and first Black to fill the U.N. post for the U.S. He served in the post from 1977 to 1979. As ambassador Young was in on top-level discussions of major foreign policies and had some hand in shaping them. A graduate of Howard University and Hartford Theological Seminary, he was ordained in the United Church of Christ and served as a pastor of churches in Alabama and Georgia. In addition to serving in Congress, Young fought for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as executive vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and served as mayor of Atlanta. The New Orleans native chronicled his life in An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide is elected president of Haiti in the country’s first democratic elections.

The beginning of the Northern Neck Chantey Singers is celebrated on this date.

They are a choral singing group specializing in Chantey singing by black menhaden fishermen. They tell of a tradition that was little known, probably because chanteys were sung only at sea by men working in a specialized fishing industry with only two centers of production: Reedville, Virginia and Beaufort, North Carolina. Chanteys were uncommon in American commercial fisheries, and Menhaden Chanteys are for the most part unrelated to traditional and better known, “sea chanteys” that flourished among the crews of 19th century American and British transatlantic sailing ships.

On the Northern Neck region of Virginia, a peninsula lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, this group of men in their 70s and 80s has been keeping alive an uncommon legacy of African-American work songs sung on the water. As young men, they worked aboard fishing boats where they pulled up by hand nets teeming with menhaden from the waters of the Chesapeake and Atlantic. From long rowboats, as many as 40 men hauled in a “purse seine,” a net filled with thousands of pounds of fish. To accomplish this backbreaking feat, they sang what were called “chanteys” to coordinate their movements.

These fishermen’s work songs could have been heard on boats out of Virginia and North Carolina wherever they pursued the great migrating schools of menhaden along the Atlantic coast, from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico. William Hudnall organized the Northern Neck Chantey Singers at the request of the Greater Reedville Association and the Association’s Museum Committee. There were two groups of Menhaden Chantey singers performing in North Carolina and the Association hoped to find some singers in Virginia for the 1991 July 4th program.

Since that Independence Day debut, interest in the group has been so great that they are still performing to this day. The singers are retired black water men from Northumberland County who worked in the menhaden fishery over a 50-year period beginning in the 1930s, for the oldest of them, and into the 1980s for some of the younger men. All of them worked on the water during the time when chanteys were sung. Chanteys and work songs in general, occupy a special place in African-American culture.

The song’s function is to make work go better. In the case of the menhaden fishermen, the songs rhythmically coordinated the efforts of hauling in the nets to bring fish to the surface. The harmony brings everybody together on the same chord at the same time, making the work easier.

On this date, Colin Powell was appointed as United States Secretary of State. Accepting President-elect George W. Bush’s nomination to be the America’s 65th Secretary of State, Powell became the first African-American to hold that position.

Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presided over Operation Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He said, “If you want to be successful in the 21st century, you must find your path to democracy, market economics and a system which frees the talents of men and women to pursue their individual destinies.”

On this date, hate crimes continued against blacks in Minnesota.

A racist message was spray-painted on a wall outside the Mediterranean Restaurant and Grocery in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
“Get out of St. Cloud Nigger” was the message and it clearly was intended for the shop’s Somali proprietor. Ismail Mohamed, 23, manager of the restaurant was the latest target in a series of hate-based incidents.

A racist slogan was spray-painted a month earlier in the small Minnesota community outside a building shared by a Somali store and a Somali activist group. On another night, a small shed in back was burned.

On this date, H.R. 3491 was signed into law. This began the movement of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture Act. Penned by President George W. Bush in the Oval Office the act authorizes the creation of a Smithsonian Institution museum dedicated to the legacy of African Americans in America.The bill also states that a site should be selected within 12 months. The museum could be opened by 2013.

On this date, actor Morgan Freeman dismissed America’s Black History Month as “ridiculous”.

Freeman, who won 2005’s best supporting actor Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, said he hoped to see an end to the annual series of events in February. “Black history is American history,” Freeman said in a BBC interview; Freeman also said the only way to end racism was to “stop talking about it”.

Now 68 years old, he called for an end to the use of the words “black” and “white”, “I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I don’t want a black history month. You’re going to relegate my history to a month?”

Black History Month, held every February, was established in 1976 as part of the US bicentennial celebrations. It has its origins in Negro History Week, which began in 1926. The founder of the week of celebrations, historian Carter G Woodson, said he hoped it would end when black history became fundamental to American history.

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